by SaraKay Smullens, MSW, LCSW, CGP, CFLE, BCD
Thank you to our wonderful The New Social Worker for this important opportunity to reach out and connect as we celebrate our proud and historic profession this month (and always!). The reason I am so delighted to be a social worker is pride in our commitments, our extraordinary history, and all of the remarkable leaders, from our beginning through the years, who have never given up keeping the hope of our profession alive, despite enormous challenges.
I am so proud of what we stand for -- our tireless work toward a more just world, true opportunities for our clients and their families to have safe and fulfilling lives, working with our clients so that they know they can achieve and dream and create better lives for themselves and their children -- and believing always that all people are capable of growth and change. Oh, how I dislike today’s (unfair and unkind!) necessity to label our remarkable clients according to diagnosis in order that our work settings and practices be maintained. In truth, I have not met one person who could not be branded with some kind of diagnostic label! (And as a grandmother of seven, I have been blessed with a long and healthy life.)
Instead of spending precious time with disease descriptions that are with our clients for life, it would be far more productive to be able to hold fast to what we as social workers know is respectful and appropriate: work with our clients to feel healthy (despite limitations and challenges) and use their opportunities and resources to the very best of their abilities — and work tirelessly so that the best possible opportunities are consistently available to them.
I am also delighted to be a social worker because meeting other social workers is a joy. We begin relationships with a common language, regardless of the time in our lives that we meet. Just today, I met a new social worker friend, and I am overjoyed! I am also proud to have coined the phrase “natural social worker,” which recognizes those of all professions (including homemakers!) who share our values and work tirelessly for all we believe in and devote ourselves to. The phrase came to me when the controversial 1994 film, Natural Born Killers, was being promoted. I was so pleased when a group of us who were Overseers at my alma mater, the University of Pennsylvania School of Social Work (now the School of Social Policy and Practice) began the practice of honoring “natural social workers,” with a Crystal Stair Award, a name based on the inspiring Langston Hughes poem, “Mother to Son.”
Oh, how I wish that we could all meet each other, but since that is not possible, our best wishes and deepest respect will have to suffice. Happy Social Work Month, dear colleagues!
SaraKay Smullens, MSW, LCSW, CGP, CFLE, BCD, whose private and pro bono clinical social work practice is in Philadelphia, is a certified group psychotherapist and family life educator. She is a recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Pennsylvania chapter of NASW, and the 2013 NASW Media Award for Best Article. SaraKay is the best-selling author of Whoever Said Life Is Fair and Setting YourSelf Free. SaraKay's professional life continues to be devoted to highlighting destructive societal forces through communication, advocacy and activism.